Adventures in TPRS

I think this post could really be titled Adventures in TPRS: Faking It Til I Make It. I didn’t start using TPRS until this semester. I have zero formal training, only what I’ve gleaned from websites and youtube videos. I’m also picking up a bit from my student teacher, whose methods teacher seems to be heavy on the TPRS, but… she’s a student teacher, so she’s still learning all the basics of pacing, planning, student management, etc.

My student teacher is currently teaching my Spanish 1s and 2s in the morning, and I take my 3s and 4s in the afternoon. So I’ve been experimenting with my Spanish 4s.

A side note about my Spanish 4s: They are my babies. They were my first group of freshmen when I was a brand new teacher. We have gone through all our growing pains together – breakups, makeups, my painful attempts at classroom management in a hot mess of a Spanish program, the explosion of awesome that I see every day. I always look at my kids and think that they started with Spanish that consisted of ‘taco, burrito, hola, gracias’. Now they can read books and listen to songs and it just blows my mind that they take the bits of language I give them and turn them into something amazing.

Okay. So, I’ve been trying this TPRS thing. There are parts of it that I like. I like that it forces me to stay in Spanish. I like that it incorporates structures that are easier if they’re just memorized, like with indirect objects (‘le dijo’) or reflexives (‘se cayó’). I like that it requires very little preparation on my part. All I need is a markerboard and the vague idea of what I want to talk about.

Of course, there are parts that I don’t like. I don’t like how teacher-centered it is. I am one of those teachers who prefers to give the directions and get out of the way. I always tell the kids, ‘I already know how to speak Spanish, I don’t need the practice.’ I want them to be the ones who are manipulating the language. Now, with novice learners, I know that I have to drive the conversation (since novice learners struggle with forming questions) but they certainly can answer simple questions. They can make simple statements. They’re not going to be perfect, or even understandable sometimes, but unless we push them out of the nest, they’re never going to fly. But with some basic scaffolding and cognates, you can start pushing them out of the nest on the first day.

In any case, I’m still fiddling around with my technique. Last week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to tell my Spanish 4s a story about a girl who had a boyfriend who was bad, but she wanted a boyfriend who was good. It was great – they now know how to say ‘he cheated on her’ and I very slyly introduced the next thing we’re going to be learning for grammar (subjunctive with wanting an unknown thing) with the structure ‘quiere un novio que sea’. I quickly learned why TPRS becomes less effective with older students. Since my Sp4s are mostly hanging out in intermediate mid or higher, they are perfectly capable of making complete sentences. So as we went through the story, I got through the first handful of sentences – basically, I set up the story – and… they ran away with it! I originally intended to do a comprehension check/mini-quiz the next day, but since they started sharing their own ideas, there was no way I could circle for them to remember what even happened.

But you know what, that’s okay. The kids told a ridiculous story (the main girl ends up dating Calvin Klein, but Calvin Klein is married… but he’s married to the person that the boyfriend is cheating with! So the girl goes with Calvin Klein, and the ex-boyfriend goes with his lover, and everyone is happy) but it was great. Kids were shouting things, I was rephrasing things for those who didn’t understand, everyone was making silly comments and adding on. It was controlled chaos – but exactly what I’m looking for when I teach. I’m sure if my principal walked in, he would wonder what in the world was going on, but as far as I’m concerned, I met my goals. Did my kids speak Spanish? Yes. Did their Spanish make sense? Yes. Did we have fun? Yes. Mission accomplished.

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